Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare Review
Written Tuesday, February 25, 2014 By Richard Walker
Gardens are usually serene and relaxing places to be. The smell of flowers and cut grass is seldom spoiled by the pungent odour of rotting flesh, but in Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, gardens are battlegrounds for a frantic vegetation on shambling undead fracas. PopCap's mutation of its simplistic, popular tower defence game in which you protect your house from marauding zombies is a multiplayer-only third-person shooter that on paper shouldn't really work. But it does.
A budget release, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare seems rather slight with three core game modes and some exclusive bits and bobs on Xbox One, including a competitive local split-screen option and a 'boss mode' that enables you to provide support from above via Kinect or SmartGlass. The main event is the Gardens & Graveyards mode, with a simple but brilliantly addictive 12v12 bout of attack and defence that tasks the Zombie team with capturing gardens and transforming them into tombstones. With each capture, the objective moves forward to the next garden, and the Plants are pushed back towards Crazy Dave's mansion, the Tactical Cuke missile silo, mega Sunflower lighthouse or whatever ultimate objective each map throws at you.
Carnage! Sap and leaves everywhere!
It's a surprisingly well-balanced affair too, with four classes of Plants and Zombies to choose from, each possessing their very own individual abilities to unlock and master as you level up. You start our with one skill per character, completing challenges to obtain stars that subsequently add a new ability to your loadout. By the time you reach level 3 with each character, you'll have the full set of three skills mapped to the Xbox controller's Y button and bumpers, giving you a nice array of options to choose from. There's the Peashooter with its explosive chilli bean, the Chomper with its ability to burrow underground and swallow a Zombie whole on the Plants' side, while the Zombie Engineer can construct Zombot turrets and teleportation devices that transport your team closer to the current objective from the spawn point.
The Sunflower is the Plants' healing specialist, whereas the Cactus is the sniper, with his defensive tallnut barriers and garlic drone that can call in corn strikes, in the same way the Engineer can employ his own Zombot drone and beckon traffic cone bombardments. Like the Peashooter, the Zombie Foot Soldier has his own explosive projectile, the ZPG launcher that he can also use to rocket jump, while the All-Star can deploy defensive tackle dummy shields like the Cactus' tallnuts, and the Scientist is able to drop healing stations and throw charges. The balance is pretty much spot on, meaning Gardens & Graveyards and Team Vanquish (PvZ's take on traditional TDM) matches are usually close-run contests with equal number teams.
While the crux of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare can be found in the game's competitive multiplayer modes and its classic variants (the latter shorn of customisation items and upgrades) the co-operative Garden Ops mode also holds hours of deliriously entertaining gameplay for up to four players or for two players locally in split-screen. It's essentially another take on the now stalwart horde mode, wherein your team of plants team up to take down ten waves of increasingly challenging zombies, with intermittent special rounds and a boss wave at waves five and ten helping to mix things up.
Give peas a chance.
Each and every action you perform across Garden Warfare's three modes is converted into zombie coins that in turn can be spent on packets of stickers in the game's shop. There are no micro-transactions muddying the waters here, and completing your sticker book with weapon upgrades, countless cosmetic customisation items for each character, multi-part stickers that unlock alternate characters, gestures, weapon skins and more becomes a compulsive activity, aimed squarely at the obsessive completist in all of us (or most of us, anyway).
It's in Garden Ops that consumables gleaned from sticker packs come into their own, as you're able to grow support plants in designated pots, like gatling peashooters, snapdragons, fume-shrooms, heal flowers, bonk choy et al. They can be invaluable in keeping the brain-eating undead onslaught at bay. On the Zombie side, consumable items can be used in Gardens & Graveyards, with various Zombie-types lifted right out of the original game, available as buddies that manage to create a nuisance for the Plants. Of course, the Plants team can still use the same potted plant consumables in Gardens & Graveyards, aiding in defending each patch from the Zombie's effort to gain ground.
There's no killing in Garden Warfare, only 'vanquishing'.
With each of the game's four Plants and four Zombies creating a variety of gameplay options across the game's three modes, it's fitting that the achievement list covers every one of the bases too. There are achievements for playing as all eight characters effectively, vanquishing a certain numbers of enemies, utilising certain abilities, winning at Gardens & Graveyards, completing an array of objectives; it's a list tailored with extended play in mind. Yet there's more than enough instant gratification to coax you into delving in to the multiplayer madness more than you might have otherwise. You can jump into certain modes alone to boost achievements, which is a bit of a cheat, but for the most part PopCap has got it right.
A seemingly slender package that actually represents fairly sound value, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare has enough charm to keep you coming back for more. While the game is multiplayer-only, what's on offer is robust, chunky, visually pleasing and effortlessly fun. However with only three core modes to choose from, there are plenty of games out there that offer a lot more than Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare in terms of options, maps, game-types and so on. Still, few other games deliver it all in such a bright and breezy manner, making it almost impossible not to raise a grin as you indulge in inoffensive pea squishing and undead decapitation.
Nice synth ditties and some pleasing cutesy plant and zombie voices make for some perfectly soothing ear candy.
Gloriously bold and colourful, packed with character and verve. From the environments to the characters, every aspect of Garden Warfare is pleasant to look at.
Well-balanced character classes, neatly designed maps and immediate controls conspire to make for some accessible and enjoyable multiplayer shenanigans. Fun is the name of the game. Some occasional but ruinous lag rears its head now and again, but it's relatively rare.
Three modes, eight maps, eight characters (plus several alternate versions) and innumerable customisation options mean there's a good chunk of game in here at a budget price, although you'll quickly run out of things to do. Chances are you'll be returning to more plentiful multiplayer fare after a few days, unfortunately.
A solid list that runs through all three modes and encourages experimentation with each of the game's characters and weaponry. It actually extends the time you'll want to spend with the game, keeping you coming back for more.
What at first seems like a bizarre experiment actually turns out to be an accomplished and brilliantly entertaining multiplayer shooter. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare might not manage to hold your attention for more than a few hours, but while it does, you can't fail to have a blast. Suitable for carnivores and vegetarians alike.
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